Original Paper

Children's Literature in Education

, Volume 41, Issue 2, pp 118-145

Racial Identification and Audience in Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry and the Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963

  • Jani L. BarkerAffiliated withEnglish, Humanities, and Languages Department, Southeastern Oklahoma State University Email author 

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Multiethnic children’s literature addresses multiple audiences, providing different reading experiences and benefits for each. Using critical race theory as an interpretive tool, this article examines how two African American historical fiction novels, Mildred Taylor’s Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry and Christopher Paul Curtis’s The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963, frame anti-racist identifications for readers of all races. It argues that these identifications are key elements in the novels’ rhetorical strategies for engaging readers and opposing racism. Both novels portray strong African American families with whom both black and nonblack readers can identify and present African American perspectives on race, but they differ in how directly they approach racism and how they frame the identification of white readers. The conclusion offers implications of analyzing race and audience when teaching multiethnic literature.


Multiethnic literature Children’s literature African American literature Implied reader Historical fiction Race Racism Audience Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963